By David Maillu
Published February 26, 2023
Mutua M Mwengi , you requested me to give a comment regarding the published divorce of Bill Gates and his wife after living together for 27 years. As a leader in African Religion, let me state that in traditional African civilization marriage is sacred. A wife is invaluable and divorce is almost non-existent. Divorce takes place only in criminal matters.
The thing is, divorce does not affect the couple only. Fundamentally, it affects both children and the extended family. In Africa a wife is not a piece of estate belonging to the husband. Besides belonging to the husband, she also belongs to the family and the ancestral spirits of the home. God wants her to live there for the rest of her life. Marriage is a religion in Africa. That is why if you think your wife has outlived her purpose, you cannot throw her out of your home. The extended family, to which she is socially married, will resist and tell you to let the mother of your children stay and let you solve your problem in another way. That is, you look for another wife whom you think suits you then build her a home separate from the one of your first wife.
This social outfit is crucial for the social welfare and psychological balance of the children. The first wife remains protected by the family, clan and ancestral spirits of the home. The husband is the movable one but the wife is immoveable. A house without a wife remains a house. It becomes a home when it acquires a wife. A wife lives above material values.
The problem with the Whiteman’s culture which our young generation is swallowing even without pealing it, is that the wife is a part and parcel of the estate of the husband. Just like a piece of land, she is registered under the husband’s name as Mrs Mutua, something which doesn’t happen in traditional Africa. They live in a nuclear family where things revolve only within parents and children. Mutua can dispose of his wife any time if he thinks she has outlived her purpose, without addressing the consequence of that divorce to the children. Children are mere subjects. Even if he was a mad man, nobody and no law in the world would refuse to grand him divorce forever.
In Bill Gates’ world, the law encourages a different kind of polygamy from our own. It allows the man only one wife at a time. To have the second wife, he would have to throw out the first wife into the dustbin of rejected wives. If the second one is not good enough, he kicks her out so that he can bring the third wife. He is a collector and disposer of women in marital matters. A man may end up in having married five wives at different times. He practices what we call consecutive polygamy. In African civilization, a husband keeps the wives whom he doesn’t love any more. They still remain his wives even when he doesn’t go to bed with them. They enjoy the sense of remaining married and earning whatever respect that goes with marriage. The children are spared the psychological damage of divorce. They continue bearing the name of their natural father.
In Bill Gate’s marital world, marriage is heavily influenced by material things. That is why if a wife becomes a celebrity, she can drop her husband and fall in love with a better match materially. The highly amplified falling in love becomes some kind of fallacy. They can fall in love today and fall out of that love tomorrow. In that world, falling in love has a lot to do with sex. If the wife is not good enough in bed, the husband shows her the door in order to create room for a more sexually satisfying partner.
In African philosophy, sex is not the determiner of the validity of marriage. It is ridiculous to divorce a woman because she is not good in bed. She may be sexually bad but excellent as a mother of the children or an important social pillar in the family. Her sex life, therefore, is conditioned by the responsibility of the home.
The narrative of Bill Gates is not a surprise in their world. The couple is probably the richest couple in the world. But being billionaires can easily cause irreparable disagreement in their estate, which would demand divorce. His or her performance in bed may cause divorce. Interference from the outside material world or paranoia in one of them could be responsible for the divorce. If the husband finds she has an affair with another man, that is enough for divorce.
In African traditional thought, it is stupid for a man to divorce the mother of your children because she has an affair with another man. That doesn’t mean sex has less value in African marriage. Sex is consummated with many social understandings. The so-called unfaithfulness is perceived as a social problem. When your wife has been found to have an affair with another man, this is an indication that she is suffering sexually.
However, in in the material world, she could fall in love with another man because he is richer than her husband. Because he has a big name with which she wants to be associated. Or because he has promised her something big or flight overseas. That is the marital philosophy our young generation is falling into fast at the expense of human value. In that club if a husband finds her a stumbling block, he can beat her up to induce divorce or murder her. In the material world women are less worth than they used to be in our tradition. Here African civilization speaks religion and prosperity.